“Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and earth,
Go, therefore, and make disciples of the nations!
Baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Teach them to carry out all that I commanded you.
And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world! Mathew28:18b-20
These last words of Christ to the Apostles in the Gospel of Matthew are excellent words with which to begin the year 2018. In these words we find the essential and central mission of the Church. These words of Christ, a directive to evangelize, are at the very heart of who we are and always have been as the Body of Christ in this world. When are baptized into the Body of Christ, we are brought into her mission. During the Anointing with Chrism Oil at baptism, we are directed (be it the adult coming in or the parents of an infant) to share in this evangelical mission of bringing Christ into the lives of all we meet.
For the apostles who heard these words, they had been given training. For three years they followed Jesus. They saw the miracles. They were given instruction is such a way that even the best of seminaries could never provide. They didn’t always get it. However, what they were given was enough to provoke them to leave the safety and security of everything they knew and proclaim a seemingly ridiculous message throughout the world: a crucified Messiah who frees us from sin and death.
Christ gives us the same opportunity to learn at His feet. He gives us a share in His life through the sacraments of the Church, He gives us the educational and spiritual formation of His Church, and He gives us the primary incubator of disciples, the family. In the coming year, our parish needs to help bolster each of these elements. It is our job as a parish to make sure that we have not just the tools to get about the work of the Kingdom, but that we have the best of tools.
It is times like this where remembering who we are as Catholics transcends mere parish boundaries. One of the challenges of being pastor of two parishes, especially when the size of those parishes are as different as they are, is that I must acknowledge that elements such as budget, staff, and volunteers must be taken into account as to how we approach our task of evangelization. Christ and His Church do not differentiate the call to evangelization based on the size of a parish. Remember, the earliest churches were small and in homes. In some of the things I am purposing, both parishes will need to take into account the abilities of the other and help each other as is fit; that is part and parcel of our catholicity.
Training through the Sacraments
All of our efforts will fall short without the grace of God. A Catholic who exempts themselves from the sacramental life of the Church is doomed to failure in living its mission. Without the sacraments we lose sight of why we do what we do. Without the sacraments the essential character of the Church is reduced to a social club or social work club. I am not saying that either of these are evil. In fact, a healthy parish has a familial bond that brings us together and a outreach to the larger community, especially to the needy of the local community. However, the Church is more than that.
In the sacraments we are given the grace necessary to live out the essential catholic charism: evangelization. Each sacrament is given to bolster that grace in the life of a member of the Body of Christ so as to engage in evangelization as God sees fit. They are pathways for the Holy Spirit to breathe the boldness and wisdom necessary to live the life of Christ in such a way as to go and make disciples. The sacraments, when received in a state of grace (baptism gives us this gift), insert the life of the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, so as to embolden us to engage. When that state of grace is lost through mortal sin, the Confession must be done to restore it so that the other sacramental graces given us are not squandered.
Part of the things I wished to do to bolster this have already started. It is why in adult education I am focusing on the Mass. Last semester we went through the Constitution on the Liturgy (Sancrosanctum Concilium) and we will be doing the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the second semester. This class meets in the parish hall at SS Peter and Paul at 7PM on most Tuesdays staring on the 9th of January. It is why I have already greatly expanded the times for confession in both parishes. It is why I am speaking frequently about the sacraments during the homilies. Over the next year, we will also be evaluating the preparation programs for the sacraments so as to make sure we are giving those who are being formed into the sacramental life of the Church the best available tools.
It is why I will be absolutely insistent that anyone who calls themselves Catholic within the parish boundaries is going to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. If chronic illness or advanced age prevents that, I have an army of Eucharistic Ministers and myself to bring the sacraments to them. I try to get out once a month to afford access to the Eucharist, Confession, and Anointing of the Sick to our ill and aged. I have others in the Boonville Correction Facility who I will now go to twice a month to afford them Mass and Confession. Everyone else, if they are going to be authentic about their faith, MUST avail themselves to the Mass and Confession. We cannot engage in the mission of the Church if we are starving ourselves of the ability to do so.
Because the sacramental life of the Church is essential to our Catholic identity, being on a parish roster will not be considered enough unless one is ill and of advanced age (unable to get out). Too many times, people will put themselves on parish rosters so as to have access to a parochial school for free. Our diocese does not charge parishioners for tuition on the belief that Catholics who put their children into our schools are living the faith. Chronically exempting oneself and one’s children from the sacramental life of the Church tells me that what is actually being sought is a free private education and not a Catholic education. I have no interest in fully supplementing a private education. I also have no interest in throwing people off of our parish roster. However, I am asking that such families be honest and either start living the sacramental life of the Church or be removed from our roster and be tuition families. We must be honest.
The Catholic Church sees as its most basic building block an entity called the domestic church, that is, the church of the family. The family is where the lessons of faith are most powerfully taught by word and deed. The example of the parents in the way they do or do not live their faith will be the primary influence on the faith of their children. This is especially true for the dad of the family. The faith or faithlessness of the dad is the single largest determining factor of whether the children grow to embrace the Catholic faith themselves.
The family is the first place of evangelization. Children are the first targets of evangelization on the part of their parents. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 2221-2231, make clear that the role of the parents in the reception and nurturing of faith in their children is paramount. For example: “Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the ‘first heralds’ for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church.” (CCC 2225)
I invite moms and dads to read the entirety of these sections from the Catechism. These are the duties that you told God you would undertake when you had your children baptized. The role I play within the larger parish as a pastor, you moms and dads (again, particularly the dads) play within your family. Inasmuch as it would be scandalous for me to use my position to drive a wedge between my flock and the Church or my flock and God, so it is scandalous for parents to do the same with their children. To this end, Jesus warns us, “Scandals will inevitably arise, but woe to him through whom they come. He would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than to give scandal to one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:1-1)
Helping You Help Them
Each parish has a responsibility to help those who are the primary teachers in the ways of the faith. Many times, though, the primary teachers had the necessary knowledge and formation withheld from them when they were young. It is hard to hand on what one does not have. I realize that for many decades Catholic catechesis has been lacking. In some cases, it has been seriously lacking. This must be fixed.
To this end, our parishes have given access to an excellent online program called ‘Formed’ to give parents a forum to deepen their own understanding of the faith and give them an opportunity to be the primary teachers of the faith they are called to be. I know many parents feel inadequate to the task to be primary teachers. We want to help you rise to the standard and be for your child who they need you to be and who God wants you to be.
Starting in January, we will be starting the ‘Choice Wine’ series for our married couples in order to help them be what they are called to be. It will be started at SS Peter and Paul. If there are people from St. Joseph who would like to be facilitators for this, I will most happily point you in the right direction. Again, given the catholic nature of our faith, it is not merely desirable that parishes act in tandem and cooperation, it is absolutely necessary. I also have the “Beloved’ series if some would like to try that. The Beloved Series is available on the Formed website.
Partners, not Replacements
Whether your child is in a parochial school, a PSR program, or a confirmation class, parents are called to be partners in the process. As already said, parents are the first teachers. We offer various educational opportunities to supplement what should be going on in the home. No Catholic teacher, however brilliant they may be, will be able to counteract fully the lack of teaching that may be missing from the parent.
In the coming months we will be developing ways in which parents are given more of a role in the spiritual and sacramental development of their children. It is not the job of a teacher to be the primary teacher and witness to the faith. They must be witnesses to the faith to be sure, but, it is the parents’ responsibility to be the primary teacher. Just as in the classroom there is a necessity to make sure what is being taught is not a personal interpretation of the truth, so it is in the home. Parents are every bit as responsible for upholding the truth of Christ and His Church as I am as a pastor.
I am a big believer that pastors and parishes cannot gripe about behavior that they enable. More often than not we enable behavior because changing behavior is much more difficult. However, the task of the parish is to make sure that each of her members is living up to their evangelical call. I know this might represent a massive shift in how we do business. However, if my goal as a pastor is to guide the parish in its totality to Christ, then my call necessitates reaching out and correcting the ship even if it is the only ship in the harbor to be corrected. What happens in other parishes is not my responsibility; what happens in my parishes is my responsibility. This is why I want myself and my staff to be your partners in the development of our youth into Catholic disciples ready to live their baptismal call.
The family is the first place where faith is formed. It is even the primary place where the faith is formed. Family members are bolstered in this role in the sacramental life of the Church. However, faith has a definitive look and set of beliefs within the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, while it does value the emotional response, wants that emotional response to be grounded in truth. In the Catholic Church, faith and reason go hand in hand.
It’s not a children’s book
The Catholic faith is a wide ranging set of truths that all are intertwined with each other. The Catholic faith is not a faith of compartments where faith applies to some compartments and not others. The Catholic faith is an integrated whole. Understanding it is not easy. Like most systems of advanced thought or sciences, Catholic theology circles around a few foundational premises that inform all the teachings. The application of these teachings must be understood to teach them effectively.
This is why learning the faith is important. What we do in any and all education programs is to help in both the understanding of the tenets of the faith and the principles under which they are applied. This is why the Church demands that her clergy have at least a master’s level education. It is why bishops are to be fastidious in overseeing the content of catechetical materials to be used. It is why pastors are to have that same knowledge of what is being taught to their parishioners and are to be seen with the same role within the parish as a parent is in the family: the primary teacher.
The Church does want us to grasp these concepts. The Catholic Church has it written in the words of Scripture and in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Both of these are complicated documents. The Church wants all her members to have broad knowledge of both. The Church is also aware that simply giving either of these documents without any training can lead to error. The Catechism and the Sacred Scriptures are not children’s books that are easily understood or implemented.
Help Me Help You
As a pastor of souls, one of my major tasks is to help each parishioner to understand our Catholic faith. I have several venues to do this.
The first venue is the pulpit. I know in the 10 minutes or so I have on Sundays and elsewhere, I have a group in front of me to whom I am responsible for teaching the truth. The homily is to use the words of Scripture to point to the truth and suggest practical application of the truth to our everyday lives. To waste that time with fluff and pablum or to use that time to poison the minds and souls of my parishioners by promoting error are both offenses before which I would have to answer to God.
The second venue I am given is in my writing. As you can tell, I use the Pastor’s Pen as a venue to explain the faith. I also use social media and my blog to expound on the truth of the Catholic faith.
The third major venue I am given is the classroom. I spend some time most days in some classroom setting. I try to get in see the classes in our school and other educational venues. I teach adult education, bring in speakers for our Tapping into Theology, and use what venues I have to teach.
To do this means I have to appropriate my time wisely. To be able to be coherent in these tasks necessitates me continuing to educate myself and be sure my spiritual life is continuing to develop. Consequently, I read most every day. I make sure prayer is a daily part of my regimen. I make choices at what gets air time in my brain and what doesn’t. What gets priority in my life is based on what helps me to execute the duties I have as a teacher and pastor of souls. I can’t give what I don’t have.
You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have
No more than I as a pastor can give my parishioners anything solid in the passing on of the faith, nor can anyone. I am aware of this. This is why I teach and try to use the pulpit as I should. It is to give you the tools. It is why I had our parishes subscribe to Formed. This way each parishioner with internet access has a way to get to excellent content and better teachers than myself and have that access 24/7.
It is also why I am absolutely insistent that Catholic parents are regularly practicing the faith and being formed in the faith. Without God’s grace, all the correct data in the world will go nowhere quickly. It is not just a matter that I want to see my parish parents succeed. I do. The point is that I NEED my parish parents to succeed. Their kids need their parents to succeed at this most important task.
It is not just parents though. Each member of our parish, regardless of age, gender, education level, or socioeconomic level, is necessary to the engagement of this parish with the fallen away of our neighborhoods and the unchurched of the same neighborhoods. There are so many people out there who are searching for truth. There are many voices saying they have the truth. We have to be more convincing about the actual truth. Because the Catholic faith is a lived truth, practice of the faith is absolutely essential to the ability to evangelize.
Our Reason for Being
The role of evangelization is not something extraneous to the lived expression of the Catholic life; it is the core of it. Jesus didn’t tell His disciples after the Resurrection to go home and keep to themselves what they had seen and heard. He told them, rather, to go baptize the nations. He told them to teach the nations all that He had taught them as disciples. He told them to trust that He would be with them. Since that time, men and women have transversed the entirety of the known world, bringing with them the message of the Gospel. The apostles, the early missionaries, the missionaries who went into barbarian territory, the missionaries who crossed oceans to new worlds, and the current day missionaries who use electronic and conventional media, all continue that mission.
That mission to evangelize is not limited to these select few. It is meant for all who have passed through the waters of baptism. Consider the Parable of the Talents in which great wealth was given to three persons with the command to use it wisely. We are given the sacraments, the Scriptures, the catechism, and the devotional life. We are given access to a great fount of knowledge. We have been given the five talents; let us use them wisely to help build up the Kingdom of God.